All posts filed under: Review

Villanova and the Compulsory Pieties of Higher Education

I. All We Like Sheep In the 1980s, when the Reagan administration chose the name “Peacekeeper” for an intercontinental ballistic missile sporting 300-kiloton nuclear warheads, critics of the program were over a barrel. “Peacekeepers kill!” “Down with Peacekeepers!” “Support for Peacekeepers is support for war!” You see the problem. Higher education gets similar rhetorical insulation with phrases like “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” which is why on American college campuses pledges of fidelity to some version of this trinity have been slipped into annual reviews, teaching evaluations, and applications for employment with hardly a whisper of opposition. Dissent always sounds diabolical. This was demonstrated last spring when two Villanova professors objected in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed to their institution’s new teaching evaluation form which asks students to comment on the professor’s “cultural awareness” and sensitivity to “individual differences” and “social identities.” The calumny wrote itself. A “Response” signed by one hundred Villanova professors implied that Doctors Sheehan and Wilson, unlike the faculty signatories, do not take seriously “charges of insensitivity, injustice, and bigotry.” Villanova’s President …

Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class—A Status Update

I was bewildered when I encountered a new social class at Yale four years ago: the luxury belief class. My confusion wasn’t surprising given my unusual background. When I was two years old, my mother was addicted to drugs and my father abandoned us. I grew up in multiple foster homes, was then adopted into a series of broken homes, and then experienced a series of family tragedies. Later, after a few years in the military, I went to Yale on the GI Bill. On campus, I realized that luxury beliefs have become fashionable status symbols. Luxury beliefs are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class. In the past, people displayed their membership of the upper class with their material accoutrements. But today, luxury goods are more affordable than before. And people are less likely to receive validation for the material items they display. This is a problem for the affluent, who still want to broadcast their high social position. But …

Gates Derangement Syndrome

Is it immoral to be a billionaire? That was the motion before the Oxford Union in a debate held last September, emphatically proposed by the journalist Anand Giridharadas. Billionaires, Giridharadas argued: …find clever new ways to pay people as little as possible and as precariously as possible. They avoid taxes illegally and legally, with trillions hiding offshore, as we’ve heard tonight. They lobby for public policies that don’t benefit the public interest—in fact, cost the public interest but enrich them. They form monopolies that asphyxiate competition. They cause social problems to make a profit: obesity by selling sugary drinks; the opioid crisis by selling OxyContin; the housing calamity by speculating in dodgy mortgages; climate change by selling fossil fuels. After outlining all the ways in which billionaires are marauding thieves and parasites, Giridharadas explained that they “then use philanthropy, some of the spoils of dubiously gotten wealth, to whitewash not just their reputations, but to actually create the ability to keep doing what they are doing.” In many cases, this bleak and cynical view of …

The Free-Speech Problem on Australian Campuses Is More CCP than SJW

For years now, Australia’s conservative media have been awash with dark forebodings about the threat that leftist radicals pose to free speech on campuses. The Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank, published an audit of free speech in 2018 that found a staggering 83% of Australian universities are actively hostile to free speech. My personal experience suggests that such fears are exaggerated by those seeking to import an American-style culture war into Australia. I’m a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Queensland, and I’ve never encountered the kind of ultra-leftist “social-justice warrior” types that apparently make sport out of persecuting conservatives. In truth, the vast majority of students on campus are depressingly apathetic, apolitical and disengaged. No, the real threat to freedom of speech that I’ve observed originates with a corporatized university administration that relies heavily on external sources for funding—and so is inclined to discourage views that may irk those controlling the purse strings. This is reflected in the way Australia’s universities are responding to student criticisms of the Chinese Communist …

Science Fiction Purges its Problematic Past

Since 1991, the James Tiptree Junior Award has been given annually to a work of “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” The award was founded by two women science fiction writers, Pat Murphy and Karen Jay Fowler. From next year, it will be called the Otherwise Award. James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon. Born Alice Bradley in 1915, she travelled the world with her parents as a young child. In 1940, after a brief unhappy marriage, she joined the women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and worked in intelligence. She married Huntington “Ting” Sheldon in 1945, and in 1952 they both joined the CIA. She later earned her doctorate and took up writing. She wrote short stories and novels, but it is the former that stand out as truly remarkable. With prose as subtle and precise as the most refined literary fiction, she penned imaginative tales like “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and “The Girl Who was Plugged In,” which became classics of science fiction and also important …

Meet the Gay Activists Who’ve Had Enough of Britain’s Ultra-Woke Homophobes

Are gay people allowed to meet and organise in defense of their interests? A hard yes, you might have thought. But some apparently disagree. Witness the response to the London-based LGB Alliance, a newly created British group that asserts “the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to define themselves as same-sex-attracted.” The group’s creation has sparked vitriol, not from the traditionalist Christians or social conservatives who might have opposed such groups in the 1980s or 1990s, but from the self-described progressive left. Readers who aren’t steeped in the most fashionable iteration of identity politics might now be scratching their heads. Unless you’re taking cues from Leviticus, what could possibly be wrong with saying it’s okay to be gay? The answer is that, in acknowledging the reality of same-sex attraction, you are indirectly acknowledging the reality and importance of biological sex as a driver of attraction. You are also indirectly acknowledging that members of the opposite sex are not members of your dating pool—even if they tell you that they share your gender identity. Which …

‘For the Love of Men’—A Review

A review of For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank, St. Martin’s Press (September 2019) 336 pages. “There is no greater threat to humankind,” Liz Plank announces on the first page of her book For the Love of Men, “Than our current definitions of masculinity.” A bold claim. “Toxic masculinity,” Plank claims, underpins vast amounts of suffering across the globe. Lest this introduction lead one to expect an anti-male screed, Plank is at pains to insist that many of the victims of “toxic masculinity” are men themselves. Who could claim that masculinity cannot be problematic? Men are undeniably responsible for most of the rape and murder in the world, and suicide claims a disproportionate number of male lives. The male bias towards camouflaging vulnerability—expressed, for example, in men’s disproportionate unwillingness to address potential health problems, be they mental or physical—was more adaptive when familial life depended on men getting up to work and fight every day of every week, but it is less so in our more comfortable …

The Defenestration of Domingo

The #MeToo movement has ended the U.S. career of legendary 78-year-old Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, one of classical music’s greatest ambassadors and impresarios. For nearly half a century, Domingo’s intense stage presence and warm, soaring voice captivated opera audiences; during the 1990s, he reached millions of new listeners as a member of the itinerant Three Tenors. In recent years, long after most singers have retired from the stage, he has continued a grueling international performance schedule, now singing baritone roles with remarkable pitch control and legato. Domingo’s entrepreneurial drive has been as untiring as his stage career. He was pivotal in creating Los Angeles’s first full-time opera company, LA Opera, the culmination of two decades of artistic diplomacy in Southern California. As LA Opera’s general director, he wooed philanthropic support from philistine Hollywood and the city’s political class. In 1993, he founded the international opera competition, Operalia, one of several institutions he has established to promote young singers. He led the Washington National Opera as general director from 1996 to 2011, and his conducting career …

China’s Looming Class Struggle

Westerners tend to identify China’s coming political crisis with developments such as the brave, educated, and often English-speaking protests in Hong Kong. Although they undoubtably pose an annoyance to Xi Jinping’s regime, the real existential challenge to the regime derives not from China’s middle orders but from the very classes that gave birth to the Communist regime. As someone who has been to China many times over the last 40 years, I acknowledge that the achievements of the reformed socialist regime are nothing short of astounding. Beijing’s streets, once crowded with horse-drawn carts, rickety bicycles, and people dressed in ragged Mao jackets, now accommodate Audis, shopping malls, and slickly attired hipsters. Urban Chinese are no longer so impressed by New York or even Tokyo; their country is home to five of the tallest buildings in the world. Yet this remarkable growth has come at the expense of China’s supposedly egalitarian ethos. Since 1978 the country’s GINI ratings—a system that measures inequality—have gone from highly egalitarian to more unequal than Mexico, Brazil, and Kenya, as well …

Why White Privilege is Wrong—Part 2

Many people enjoy invoking race as an explanation for all sorts of things. It is a shared pastime for both the far-left and the far-right. The media expend vast sums of money and effort to ensure we don’t escape discussions about race as something that is or should be important. This vocal minority of political extremists and news broadcasters has directed our attention away from more powerful causal explanations that underlie group outcomes. Perverse incentives for these two groups have made race a more a prominent feature of our lives. As a consequence, white privilege has become the favoured explanation for differences in group outcomes among many educated people. But unintentional or otherwise, by attributing success to white privilege, affluent individuals who invoke this mistaken idea thwart the ambitions of those who are seeking success but who are also lacking in privilege. If we want to not only understand differences in group outcomes but also mend them, then we need a more robust and less ideological framework. The Pitfalls of One-Thing-ism   The presumption that …